After a number of visits to the Yamal region of Siberia over the last four years, we are now in discussion with the administration of the region with a view to bringing an exhibition of material culture from the traditional reindeer herding nomads to the UK. This would include material on the processing of natural resources, such as birch-bark and reindeer skin, to the spiritual values and cultures of the area. We are hopeful that we may be able to bring to the UK a collection of items, including two traditional nomad tents (summer and winter variants), and we are also looking at cultural exchanges and workshops in the lead-up to the exhibition. This might involve students visiting the Yamal and taking part in practical workshops on materials, tools and techniques, as well as explorations into nomadic territories.
We are looking to create a final exhibition which will look at the whole of the material culture of the region, but will be centred around their tents (choom), which serve as a symbol of the whole cosmos and which are at the very core of life in this extremely harsh environment. The exhibition would be in three parts:
Part 1 – Materials, Tools and Transformations. This would explore a number of unique processes, including the preparation of birch bark, tanning of reindeer hides and sinew, and we would explore the productions that arise through these processes, in the form of baskets, sledges, clothes and, of course, the nomad tents.
Part 2 – Culture and Spirit. This would explore four distinct areas. Spirit in Nature, or the animist beliefs; Spirit in Things, the role of the shaman in creating totems; Spirit in Landscape, in the patterns of migrations and sacred sites; and Spirit in Us, exploring some unique ideas on reincarnation.
Part 3 – Brothers and Sisters of the Choom. Here we would include a number of other architectural traditions, including the Chukchi yarranga, the Sami goathi, and the Innuit tupiq, exploring how and why the typical conical form of the choom developed into this abundance of different forms.
This is a very exciting project and may involve exchange between our universities, field-work in the Yamal and eventually we hope to exhibit in three location in the UK, as well as bringing speakers and musicians from Siberia to the UK. We are currently in negotiation with venues in Exeter and London, but it would be great to be able to bring this to Scotland as well.
We are now interested in finding Russian individuals and groups who are based in the UK and who will support our project. This might be as little as writing a letter, to helping us find venues to display the material, through to joining our fundraising team, helping with translations or the practical aspects of the project.